"Has that ever happened?" Ned asked. "Just...losing a guy?"
"Once," she said. "Before my time. Look here, Ned, I made you a copy of the call-codes. We don't have to use them anymore, but all the Troopers still do. If you want to run dispatch, you have to know these."
Then she went back to the four basics of the job, running them past him yet again: know the location, know the nature of the incident, know what the injuries are, if any, and know the closest available unit. Location, incident, injuries, CAU, that was her mantra.
I thought: He'll be running it next. She means to have him running it. Never mind that if Colonel Teague or someone from Scranton comes in and sees him doing it she'd lose her job, she means to have him running it.
And by the good goddam, there he was a week later, sitting at PCO Pasternak's desk in the dispatch cubicle, at first only while she ran to the bathroom but then for longer and longer periods while she went across the room for coffee or even out back for a smoke.
The first time the boy saw me seeing him in there all alone, he jumped and then gave a great big guilty smile, like a kid who is surprised in the rumpus room by his mother while he's still got his hand on his girlfriend's tit. I gave him a nod and went right on about my beeswax. Never thought twice about it, either. Shirley had turned over the dispatch operation of Statler Troop D to a kid who still only needed to shave three times a week, almost a dozen Troopers were out there at the other end of the gear in that cubicle, but I didn't even slow my stride. We were still talking about his father, you see. Shirley and Arky as well as me and the other uniforms Curtis Wilcox had served with for over twenty years. You don't always talk with your mouth. Sometimes what you say with your mouth hardly matters at all. You have to signify.
When I was out of his sightline, though, I stopped. Stood there. Listened. Across the room, in front of the highway-side windows, Shirley Pasternak stood looking back at me with a Styrofoam cup of coffee in her hand. Next to her was Phil Candleton, who had just clocked off and was once more dressed in his civvies; he was also staring in my direction.
In the dispatch cubicle, the radio crackled. "Statler, this is 12," a voice said. Radio distorts, but I still knew all of my men. That was Eddie Jacubois.
"This is Statler, go ahead," Ned replied. Perfectly calm. If he was afraid of fucking up, he was keeping it out of his voice.
"Statler, I have a Volkswagen Jetta, tag is 14-0-7-3-9 Foxtrot, that's P-A, stopped County Road 99. I need a 10-28, come back?"
Shirley started across the floor, moving fast. A little coffee sloshed over the rim of the Styrofoam cup in her hand. I took her by the elbow, stopping her. Eddie Jacubois was out there on a county road, he'd just stopped a Jetta for some violation -- speeding was the logical assumption -- and he wanted to know if there were any red flags on the plate or the plateholder. He wanted to know because he was going to get out of his cruiser and approach the Jetta. He wanted to know because he was going to put his ass out on the line, same today as every day. Was the Jetta maybe stolen? Had it been involved in an accident at any time during the last six months? Had its owner been in court on charges of spousal abuse? Had he shot anyone? Robbed or raped anyone? Were there even outstanding parking tickets?
Eddie had a right to know these things, if they were in the database. But Eddie also had a right to know why it was a high school kid who had just told him This is Statler, go ahead. I thought it was Eddie's call. If he came back with Where the hell is Shirley, I'd let go of her arm. And if Eddie rolled with it, I wanted to see what the kid would do. How the kid would do.
Copyright © 2002 by Stephen King.
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